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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Perfection and St. Bernard Again and such things as RCIA, family, cakes, and the Jesuits

Without the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bernard, I would not have started this journey towards perfection, to which God calls us. St. Bernard is able, in his writings, to be both practical and spiritual. For example. he writes that if we want to gain souls for Christ, people must be "reservoirs and not mere channels". Humphreys picks this up in his book when referring to the Jesuits. And, I apply it to the laity, as the Society of Jesus is called to work in the city and market-place and be contemplatives in the world.

Firstly, as the Jesuits are called to perfect themselves and each other in the Order, so too each member of a family is called to help each one become perfect.

Do we think of this in our families? We must concentrate on being perfect ourselves, for as St. Bernard states, we must be reservoirs. If the lake is empty, no one gets water. If we are not living in sanctifying grace, we cannot help others.

Contemplation allows us to find, ultimately, union with God and, therefore, be able to reach out to our neighbours, beyond family life. Humphreys notes that the Society of Jesus had this goal of perfecting others, not merely correcting them or converting them. This is the second point.

This point is key. Not merely correction nor conversion. The new evangelism must be followed up with the steps of perfection. One cannot end catechesis with the Creed, but move on, as the original mystagogia did in ancient times, to the mysteries of prayer and the Life of Christ. I do not know one RCIA program in England or Eire which has the mystagogia program such as I taught in the States. Correct me if I am wrong about this oversight. That mystagogia is the time for the deepening and moving on from the original conversion experience.

There is much confusion on these points among the laity. The active life must come from the contemplative basis of prayer and meditation. Nothing else joins each one of us with the Holy Spirit in a constant way than prayer in meditation and contemplation. This is the third point here today. No action is truly efficacious without this movement in the soul of deep, mental prayer.

Some lay persons think we are not called to this. We are. This is the sublime call given to each one of us at baptism. Humphreys, basing his ideas on Suarez, writes: "The contemplative life is therefore the source and principle of such actions in their perfection."

To put it negatively, no meditation, no contemplation = no perfection.

What does this mean? Prioritizing. Teaching your children to set aside at least one hour of prayer a day, by starting small and building up time. Allowing your spouse space to develop a life of meditation and contemplation. Giving time to God.

One of the most unfortunate things to happen in the past forty years has been the number of mothers and housewives going out to work instead of being stay-at-home moms. As a stay-at-home mom for a while, I had time in the day to develop a habit of quiet and prayer while working and teaching in the home school. A mother who does this can then give time to the husband for his prayer. They must help each other. Married people who have regular prayer time do not get burnt-out and need less vacations, as the restorative time in prayer allows them this rest.

I think of my old, Irish bachelor friend whose brother married in order to have someone with whom to say the rosary. The old brother was being criticized by the priest for wanting to get married again after his wife died. The old man wanted someone to pray with him. Not a bad reason for getting married--this man understood the priority of prayer in life. He did get married again, and the new wife did say the rosary with him daily. Meditation leads to contemplation and the rosary is a means of meditation. This old couple were working towards perfection. They were really old, yet tying to live out the real vocation of prayer in the world.

One of the nuns told me she joined the order because it was easier to pray when one was in a community. Absolutely true...but we must carve out of our days the same rhythm of prayer and work. I know a man who is a medical specialist with six children. The house he leads is a house of prayer. This may mean no television, no chilling out by merely sitting, but a habit of meditation and contemplation. And, he is on call, as he works for two hospitals. A habit of prayer leads to perfection. There is no other way. I know a med student who prays at least four hours of the breviary in his horribly, busy day. There is no other way. I know a house-wife and mother of six, (six is a common number among my friends), who prays almost constantly in a quiet habit. The family has had family rosary before bed-time for years and years.  There is no other way.

One of the terrible things of the new activity of the laity in the Church is that many lay persons think that activity is the way to heaven, and that meditation and contemplation are icing on the cake. It is the other way around. Meditation and contemplation are the cake and activity is the icing.

Stop doing so much and start being more.

To be continued....


New Sister said...

Not eveyone is capable of praying hours a day in a busy life. Homeschooling moms I know here struggle just to keep the Sabboth holy -- to not do lesson plans and plan meals for the week, or to shop on Sunday. Their work is prayer - and there is merit, according to Saint Francis de Sales (at least)- in doing duty over formal prayer. (I'm sure most of these mothers would *love* to have hours before the Most Blessed Sacrament instead of cooking, grading papers for 9 children, etc..)

St Francis de Sales writes about how there is more merit in the *regret* such mothers feel deep down (and murmur to God in the rare spare moment they have) that they are not able to stay with Him longer after Holy Mass, or to attend devotions as they would want - than if they were to leave their duties to do these things. It would incur sin, not merit, to to go to Mass or to pray the brievary with a pile of laundry or unfed kids in the home. [NB most homeschooling families I know banish TV; they may do too many sports, but there is a lot of good in sports, too]

Soooo, on the "no other way" points you make, I respectfully disagree. God does not give "Supermom" capacity to everyone. I think the merits of the future priests and nuns these mothers are raising get bestowed back on them anyway. [that's what Jesus does to His Mother]

Supertradmum said...

One does not teach school on Sundays or shop on Sundays. At least, in the home schooling groups I was in,we did not and we had time to socialize with each other on the weekends. The husband's duty is to make sure the wife has prayer time and I know hundreds, yes, hundreds of families where the husbands make sure the wives have prayer time. The problems are in thinking children need to be in everything. Two extra-curricular activities are enough, such as music and a sport. When parents want model children in everything, this is a mistake.

If the parents are not helping each other with their prayer life, something is out of line. Devotions are not the issue, but many dads make sure the wives get to evening adorations, or rosary groups can happen during the day with home schooling groups, even with older children. I know this from experience.

Most home schooling families of kids and moms go to daily Mass where I have lived and are known for this-being good witnesses to the rest of the community, while the parish school goes once a week.

Moms and dads should be involved in schooling and not just dads. Maybe the east coast is different than other places but both parents school in some ways, not just mom.

As to grading papers, the older ones can do that and teach some of the young ones. Home schooling coops, where moms share abilities and talents is also a good thing. When I lived in a lay community for seven years, all the husbands in that community of 2,000 made sure their wives had prayer time daily. Both the man and the woman must help each other. If one is too busy to pray, one is too busy.

New Sister said...

You're right that there are too many extra-curricular activities. Most kids I know have 2 or 3, times 6 children in an average family, that's quite enough to render the mother's life crazy. She has to do much of her prayer "on the go".

I live in the National Capital Region where living expenses are high and the dads work pretty demanding hours... military dads have to go away for months at a time (if not years).
I can't think of a single homeschooling family that does not have a strong devotion to the Rosary in the home. That is very heartening and probably why I know so many amazing people. It's also interesting how much demand is placed on these families for social things, because the world wants to be around them so badly. They cannot possibly accept all the invitations they receive and have a hard time saying "no", often out of sympathy for the host. Being out there like that may be tiring, but they are a powerful witness - showing the culture of death that 5 children is *not* a big family and that homeschooled kids are wonderfully adjusted, aware of who they are, and just great to be around.

As a great priest often says, "Brick-by-brick"!

Supertradmum said...

New Sister, great comment....but we do not have to be perfect home-schooling moms to find perfection.